“What happened?” Vikram asked through his open window. “Is Aisha all right?”
The two deputies exchanged a long look. “Apparently everything is all right. Aisha claims she knocked a pot of hot water off the stove and that her burns are superficial. She’s refusing medical care. And Kumar has promised to take care of her.”
Ahana shook her head, knowing that there was way more to the story. But what could they do? If Aisha wouldn’t come forward to testify against her husband or come in to get medical care, they couldn’t take any action against him.
“Sorry we bothered you,” Vikram said.
“It’s no bother,” Deputy Shahil said with a dark frown. “But it is frustrating. At the moment, our hands are tied. Let us know if you hear anything more.”
“Thanks,” Ahana murmured, feeling sick to her stomach. Ahana didn’t say anything as Vikram started up the car and drove away. Ahana knew it would only be a matter of time until Aisha was hurt again.
The only question remaining was whether or not she’d survive the next attack.
Vikram glanced over at Ahana, who’d been unusually quiet during the ride back to his place. “How about some steaks on the grill?” Vikram offered.
Her eyebrows rose in surprise, and Vikram mentally braced himself for rejection. “Actually,” she said slowly, “that sounds wonderful.”
Despite his intent to keep Ahana in the friendship category but unevenly get close as if they can’t live without each other, Vikram was thrilled that they’d be spending the evening together. Vikram assumed that Ahana didn’t want to be alone, and Vikram couldn’t blame her, especially since he knew Ahana was as depressed as he was about Aisha’s situation.
But Vikram was glad all the same.
“I hope you don’t mind if I stop at a grocery store,” Vikram said. “I need to pick up something to go along with the steaks.”
“Sounds good. I’d be happy to pay for salad fixings,” Ahana offered.
“I’ll pay for the salads,” Vikram said firmly as he executed a U-turn in the road to head back toward town. A few minutes later, Vikram pulled into the parking lot of the local grocery store.
Vikram helped her out of the car, once again distracted by her vanilla scent. Vikram quickly pulled her crutches out of the back seat and handed them to her. “Ready?” he asked.
“Of course,” Ahana said, swinging into a crutch walk like a pro.
Vikram grabbed a basket and followed her to the produce section. “Oooh, the tomatoes look delicious,” Ahana gushed.
Vikram grimaced. “If you like tomatoes.”
Her jaw dropped in mock horror. “You don’t like tomatoes? How is that possible? Everyone likes tomatoes!”
“I don’t,” Vikram said with a wry grin. “But help yourself. Do you like cucumbers?”
“Of course, what’s not to like?”
“What about salad dressing?” Vikram asked when they’d filled the basket with veggies. “I have ranch dressing at home, but if you want something else, that’s fine.”
“I love ranch dressing, so I’m good.”
Ridiculous to be pleased that they had some tastes in common. They made their way over to the checkout lines, and Vikram Ahana ignored the surprised glances in his direction as Vikram paid for the groceries. It was a little late now to be worried about the gossip mill, considering he’d already attended temple with Ahana.
After the way Rubika had ruined his reputation at Bela Nagar, he’d tried to avoid attracting attention here in Moti Lake. Vikram hadn’t been seen with a woman before now.
But there was no denying that he’d been living a lonely existence. And what was the harm of picking up veggies for dinner with Ahana? He didn’t care what people said about him outside the hospital. As long as his reputation within the Emergency Department remained untarnished, Vikram was fine.
The drive back to his house didn’t take long. Once inside, Ahana took over the kitchen. “I’ll make the salads,” Ahana said, running the veggies under water to clean them. “You can grill the steaks.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Vikram teased as he pulled the steaks out of the fridge, where he’d been marinating them all afternoon. The fact that he’d planned on having dinner with Ahana all along made him pause for a moment.
Was Vikram really considering breaking his cardinal rule against dating co-workers?
No, he wasn’t. Vikram couldn’t afford to do anything that might jeopardize his career. They were friends, that’s all. And friends could certainly share dinner on occasion. Not a big deal.